Sardis hires new Chief of Police; vows to clean up late night crime

Published 6:12 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2024

In a special meeting last week the Sardis Mayor and Board of Aldermen appointed veteran Panola County law enforcement officer John Lantern to fill the post of Chief of Police following the resignation of Chris Franklin.

“I regret to inform you that as of March 8, 2024, I will be resigning from the Sardis Police Department. Due to the lack of funding, it has become impossible to safely staff the police department and keep the citizens safe. I wish you all the best. Thank you for letting me serve these last 4 years,” read the letter that Franklin submitted.

Franklin, who had been chief for five and a half years, said he had no hard feelings for the town’s leadership, but could not continue to be the chief of a department that pays officers $17. 

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“That’s not enough pay when we are asking offices to put their lives on the line every day,” he said.

The assistant chief and another officer also resigned.

Sardis Mayor Richard McCarty said aldermen unanimously agreed to hire Lantern, a retired Mississippi Highway Patrol officer. 

“Leadership starts at the top,” McCarty said. “Our board is satisfied that Chief Lantern will be a positive addition and the people of Sardis can feel safe with our department.”

McCarty said the board will review applications and recommendations from Lantern at future board meetings and intends to fully staff the department, which will require hiring an assistant and three more full time officers.

Sardis also employs 6-8 part time officers on an as-needed basis. McCarty said town officials intend to make police pay increases a central part of budget discussion for the 2024-25 fiscal year, a process that will begin in about three months.

For Lantern, a native and resident of Sardis, the new position is a bit of a homecoming. He was a patrolman and investigator for Sardis Police from 1998-01 early in his law enforcement career.

Lantern was also chief of the Sledge Police Department (1997-99), a deputy with the Sheriff’s Office (2001-06) and a MHP officer (2006-23). Lantern ran for sheriff in the 2023 election, but was defeated by Sheriff Shane Phelps in the Democratic Primary.

During his long police career Lantern has taken numerous continuing education courses and attended seminars on updated law enforcement techniques and procedures. He also has a business degree from Mississippi Delta Community College.

Lantern said he was enjoying retirement, but accepted the chief’s position to serve his friends and neighbors and restore order to his hometown.

“My town needed me, and I’m here to help,” he said. “I want our citizens to feel safe again and we are going to do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

“We are going to crack down on everything that is going on, and especially this late night stuff,” Lantern said. “I can’t stop all the crime, but I can deter it, and if you call the police we will be there.”

Lantern said he expects to present new hires for the board’s approval and begin sending officers to police training academies soon.